Video: What’s in Your Ditch Bag?


Every boater should keep a ditch bag within easy reach at all times in case his boat sinks or capsizes. No one likes to think about such things, but it happens to even the best mariners. All it takes is a wave over the stern, an electrical fire or a faulty through-hull fitting and you could find yourself in the water faster than you can say Mayday.

A ditch bag should contain a variety of items that will help alert rescuers and home in on your location. Many of these items are required by the Coast Guard, so it’s a good idea to keep them in one place.

Here’s a list of items I keep in my ditch bag:

  • PLB: A Personal Locator Beacon is perhaps the most important item to keep in your ditch bag, as it will alert rescuers from anywhere on the planet and guide then to you. You can buy one for around $200-$400, and can take it with you on other people’s boats as well. Battery is life is around 5 years.
  • Waterproof VHF: A submersible VHF can alert nearby boaters and the Coast Guard to your plight. Just make sure it’s fully charged throughout the season.
  • Cell Phone: Old cell phones can still be used to make emergency 911 calls, so consider keeping an old one in your ditch bag, protected by a waterproof bag, of course.
  • GPS: A handheld GPS can be used as a backup on your boat and will let you tell rescuers exactly where you are.
  • Smoke Flare: A smoke flare sends out a plume of orange smoke that can be seen for miles (during the day, of course) and will help rescuers zero in on your location.
  • Projectile Flare: Very good for alerting fellow boaters and rescuers, and leading them to your position when they get to the area. Make sure to store them in a waterproof bag or container.
  • Signal Mirror: Again, a signal mirror can be used to flash a signal to rescuers in the air. Best of all, it doesn’t need recharging or batteries. It’s a good idea to practice using one beforehand.
  • Rescue Streamer: Another simple, inexpensive device that will help rescuers home in on you from above.
  • Whistle/Air Horn: Two effective sound-signaling devices to help rescuers find you in low-light conditions.
  • Strobe: Strobes are more effective than constant light sources for drawing the attention of rescuers from afar.
  • Spare PFD: Keeping an inflatable PFD may come in handy if someone jumps overboard without one.

Once you have your ditch bag items assembled, place them in a watertight bag or container. Most important, make sure it floats! I attach a fender to my ditch bag and keep it readily available in an unlocked compartment near the helm. I also make sure to tell guests on my boat where it lives and why it’s there.

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